Juneteenth: A Day of Jubilee
By TaNefer Camara, Co-Founder of The B.L.A.C.K. Course
January 1st 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which granted freedom to enslaved people under confederate control. However, many enslaved people were not informed of the executive order which would grant their freedom. In Texas where there were an estimated 250,000 people enslaved, this news would arrive two years after the proclamation was announced and signed. On June 19th 1865 General Granger and federal troops arrived in Galveston Texas to anounce the end of slavery and the liberation of the people. The following year on that date, a “Day of Jubilee” which would later become known as Juneteenth was celebrated to commemorate the freedom of the formerly enslaved Black people in America. The celebration grew and as Black people began to migrate throughout the country, Black communities around the country gathered to honor this day. In 1979, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as an official holiday and in 2021 Juneteenth was declared a national federal holiday.
During the period after emancipation, the formerly enslaved set out on a mission to establish their families, communities, schools, churches, farms and businesses. The newly emancipated knew that true freedom is not given and they would have a long road to rebuilding from the irreparable damage that centuries of slavery and oppression took from them. After the celebrations the work began. People sought to reunify with relatives that were sold, they established Freedom schools for people of all ages to learn to read and write and they built homes and cultivated farmland to begin a new life. The Black Midwives, herbalist healers were of the most revered in the community as they took care of the pregnant women, attended births, treated the sick and kept many of our healing traditions alive during a time where we were denied essential medical care. The Black Midwives, Mama’s, aunties and healers were also the ones to assist with breastfeeding and care for women postpartum. Black Midwives of this time not only cared for Black women but also white women as they had during slavery. Birth work, domestic work and education were some of the professions that Black women of this time practiced. Many women sought to be homemakers and care for their families during this period, but poverty and the harsh conditions of the south would lead many mothers back into the workforce.
When slavery ended, another level of terror began, known as the Black Codes; which were enacted during the period of reconstruction from 1865-1877. These codes restricted the movement and freedom of Black folks. This included curfews, exclusion from certain businesses and services included healthcare, banks, schools, employment and voting rights. Violations of these codes were so strict and nearly impossible to navigate that they would land people either in jail, dead or back in a status of slavery. The Reconstruction Act of 1867 sought to weaken these codes by requiring all states to uphold the 14th amendment, however in the rural south enforcement and adherence to the act was low. During this time Black men did exercise their right to vote and hold public office. After Reconstruction ended these protections were removed and Jim Crow laws replaced the Black codes further oppressing and restricting the rights of Black people in America. Many of the formerly enslaved would still be tied to plantations as share croppers while others left for distant lands and areas to escape the oppression and terrorism that ensued in the years after emancipation.
One of the greatest priorities of the newly freed was the unification of the Black Family. Slavery tore families apart; children were taken from their parents, husbands and wives, siblings, loved ones and friends were separated. So upon emancipation one of the first orders of business was to reunify with family. We see that unification in the reclaiming of practices such as marriage, birth and breastfeeding. Enslaved people did not have rights over their bodies, their reproduction or their babies. Freedom meant the ability to reclaim autonomy and self-determination, to decide when to have children, how to raise them and to breastfeed them.
Juneteenth was a Family celebration, a coming together of generations to honor their ancestors, pay respect to elders and teach the youth. Through storytelling, food, music, worship and prayer. We recognize this day and continue the legacy. We see Juneteenth as a time for reflection and healing. Part of that healing is reclaiming our traditions, developing new traditions and forging a path for future generations to follow.
The Lactation Network joins The B.L.A.C.K Course in Commemorating Juneteenth. The B.L.A.C.K. Course which is an acronym for Birth, Lactation, Accommodation, Culture and Kinship is a foundational lactation education course that centers the history, culture, spirituality and lived experience of Black People in America, the descendants of slavery and people of the African diaspora in a comprehensive lactation education course. We invite you to learn more about our history and vision for the future as we cultivate healing in reclaiming, promoting and supporting the art and culture of Breastfeeding in the Black Family. In celebration of Juneteenth, The B.L.A.C.K. Course Juneteenth webinar is available for your viewing until July 3rd. You can access the webinar HERE.